The number of Libyans displaced by ongoing fighting continues to rise and has now reached almost 400,000.
According to the UNHCR, the figure for those internally displaced since conflict began in May now exceeds 393,400. At least 106,420 have fled their homes just in the past month.
As fighting has raged around Benghazi, Obari and Kikla, large numbers of people have fled to safer areas. Residents have also decamped from Derna as groups aligned with the Islamic State have become entrenched there and the LNA has begun carrying out air strikes in and around the town.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says that working out exactly how many internally displaced persons (IDPs) has been hard because of the limitations of the UNHCR’s work in the midst of the instability.
Their estimate is that the IDPs include 56,500 from Benghazi (including 2,500 Tawerghans who had previously taken refuge there after being displaced in 2011). There are also 11,280 from Obari ans 38,640 from Kikla.
The UNHCR and its partner organizations have not been able to determine the number of those who have fled Derna.
According to Edwards, the displaced have relocated to at least 35 cities and towns across Libya. Those who have fled Benghazi and Derna have taken shelter in Tobruk, Marj, Beida, Ajdabiya and Misrata.
Many towns are reaching or exceeding the limits of their abilities to absorb and care for these refugees. Food, medications and other essentials are in short supply.
Because many towns are often hosting IDPs in schools, classes have been suspended, meaning the school year has been disrupted not only for the students who fled, but also for residents in the towns in which people have sought safety. Edwards specifically mentioned the school closures in Marj and Tobruk.
The UNHCR and local organisations have struggled to reach IDPs to bring help. Access has been extremely difficult due to the continuing armed clashes. However, Edwards said that funding has also become an issue.
With the colder weather and rains coming soon, there are concerns that the IDPs will not have the necessary clothing, heaters and adequate shelter.
The plight of the Tawerghans, in particular, raises concerns. According to Edwards, around 2,500 of them have fled from Benghazi to Ajdabiya and neighbouring towns and taken shelter in parks, parking lots and schools. Many have only tents or plastic sheets for shelter, he said.
The UNHCR is also concerned for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, almost half of them Syrians, who find themselves stranded in conflict zones.
“During times of conflict, refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants are often viewed with suspicion and suffer from animosity towards all foreigners,” said Edwards.
The lack of options can be a factor that drives them to attempt the dangerous Mediterranean boat crossing on to Europe. The number of those attempting the trip has increased dramatically this year and the UNHCR estimates that 85% of those that reach Italy’s shores began their journey from Libya.
Edwards said: “The UNHCR calls on all countries to allow civilians fleeing Libya access to their territories, and urges all states to suspend forcible returns to Libya until the security and human rights situation has improved considerably.”
This article was originally published here.